by Hoang Anh
An event was held on Sunday in remembrance of road traffic victims this year by the National Committee for Traffic Safety. During the first 10 months of the year, nearly 7,200 people died and 17,000 were injured in traffic accidents across the country.
That meant everyday, 24 of us left our homes, said goodbye to our loved ones only to never return to see them again.
The remembrance reminded all of us how precious lives, including our own and that of our loved ones, could be easily taken away at any moment as we are doing something as simple as commuting to work in the morning.
I felt a palpable fear as I came to realise that the everyday life that we live is surrounded by dangers, not just from traffic accidents but many others, perhaps not all as violent and sudden but in no way less deadly and painful.
I was born in the 1980s and grew up in Ha Noi. I can remember a time when as a kid I could have meals or stay the night at any of my neighbours houses without my parents worrying about me. Back then, people knew their neighbours, helped their neighbours and conflicts were usually solved with calm words, not fists.
Cities in Viet Nam have been growing quickly and economic changes have made people's lives busier. Also, the increase in opportunities to make money has lead some of us to do anything to make money, even hurt other people.
Earlier this month, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said that he felt "chills" down his spine as he learned of an incident in Binh Duong, where a farmer was found to use pesticides and other forbidden substances to hasten the process of ripening bananas, which were no doubt to be sold and consumed by the public.
Now and then, we hear of trucks full of decomposing animal parts being transported to be served as restaurant food, of abuses of pesticides in the country's cultivation of fruits and vegetables, and of harmful chemicals and substances in everyday household items that we use.
The situation was so desperate that during one National Assembly meeting, an NA deputy commented that the distance between our stomach and the graveyard has never been shorter.
In fact, one of the most common and constant fears on the minds of Vietnamese consumers in the last two decades or so has been contaminated food, which has been perceived as the cause for a rising number of cancer patients across the country.
On the night of November 8, a taxi driver, while trying to escape several men who were in pursuit of him after a minor traffic collision, lost control of his car and slammed into seven motorbikes traveling in the opposite lane on the overpass of Thai Ha in Ha Noi. One person was killed and seven others were injured.
Cornered and chased after like an animal, bewildered and horrified by the sight of the carnage he caused, the taxi driver leaped from the top of the overpass into the traffic below.
It was fear of being beaten up that made him run away from his pursuers. It was fear of facing the consequences of his mistake that drove him off the ledge of that overpass. The degree of his desperation and the violence of his suicide attempt once again gripped us with horror.
We, as a society, often voice our frustration over the incompetence of public agencies for their failures to act or react to stop the tragedies that shroud our lives with fear. Yet few have taken steps to address such issues themselves or have even come to the realisation that our fears are almost entirely man-made and many of them could be dealt with by ourselves.
We've all seen parents giving their kids energy drinks without knowing how harmful the ingredients of those drinks can be to children, or buying them cheap toys of dubious origin just because they asked for it.
We've seen grown men spending hours everyday drinking beer – as cheap as 20 cents per glass – on the sidewalk in big cities after work. It was so cheap that I could guarantee you that it could not be beneficial to their health. Yet Vietnamese consume $3 billion of beer a year, equal to country's total annual rice exports.
Going back to the incident with our taxi driver, many people afterward asked the question: What if he didn't run away? What if those men didn't give chase? What if they could just talk it out in the first place?
Suddenly, we realised that the tragedy could have been avoided if only they chose to act differently. Just like the cause behind our fears are entirely man-made and many of them could be dealt with by ourselves.
Now the competence of public agencies may be another topic for debate but we cannot just shift all the responsibilities onto them and tell ourselves that we've done all that we could.
It's time for us, as a community, to step up and take matters into our own hands starting by saying no to our kids when they ask for energy drinks, saying no to cheap things made of harmful plastic, saying no to abuse of cheap beer, saying no to shady restaurants and vendors that are trying to sell contaminated food.
And more importantly, we must learn treat each other with kindness. I remember a time when we could calmly talk to each other instead of resorting to intimidation and violence, a time when neighbours were happy to help and a time when we weren't willing to poison one another to get richer.
Life was much less about fear 20 years ago. Perhaps only by staying connected and united as a community can we face all the fears and the dangers that life throws at us. And hopefully, by doing so we all can grow a bit stronger and braver everyday. — VNS